With many countries, states, and cities around the world releasing “stay at home” orders to promote social distancing and try to control the spread of COVID-19, the travel industry has been hit hard. People aren’t driving, flying, or even taking public transport and, as these industries are in lesser demand, the need for oil also falls. Although the drastic changes in everyday life for the average person are undeniable, these practices may have the surprising benefit of curtailing carbon emissions.
Reports from China estimate that carbon emissions have been 25% lower than usual over the past month, directly correlating with the coronavirus pandemic and the strict regulations on travel and social gatherings released by the Chinese government.
What does this mean for long term CO2 accumulation? Will this help to curtail climate change?
For the past 62 years, global carbon dioxide accumulation in our atmosphere has been tracked daily by the Keeling Curve, developed by Scripps Oceanography geochemist Ralph Keeling. According to his calculations, “fossil fuel use would have to decline by about 10% around the world and would need to be sustained for a year to show up clearly in carbon dioxide levels” in order for this to be reflected in the Keeling Curve data as short term variations are often barely distinguishable in contrast to the long term trends.
According to Scripps Oceanography scientist Robert Monroe, these sudden decreases in CO2 emissions will unfortunately have little impact on climate change in the long term as historically, following economic crises, CO2 typically returns to its previous levels as travel and economic activity returns to normal.
For more information on how coronavirus is affecting CO2 emissions: